Exhibit brings artists outside

Artist Shawn Cornell, of St. Louis, paints with oils Saturday during a plein air painting session at the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site. Painters from around the state were invited to paint in the open air as they captured the summer scenery around the lawn of the Lohman Building and the Union Hotel. The outdoor activity was part of a soft opening for a plein air exhibit opening Tuesday at the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery

Under the afternoon August sun, a small group of painters gathered at the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site for some plein air painting.

Plein air painting, which comes from the French phrase "en plein air," meaning "in the open air," is a style of painting done outdoors. Plein air is the focus of a new exhibit opening Tuesday in the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery.

Plein Air Missouri features seven Missouri artists who paint, "en plein air," landscapes and other outdoor images of Missouri. Featured in the exhibit is Larry DeGraff, Farley Lewis, Gloria Gaus, Dennis Babbitt, Daniel Fishback, Colette Brumbaugh and Shawn Cornell.

The paintings feature scenes from across the state, like the Katy Trail and the Meramec River.

To celebrate the soft opening of the exhibit Saturday, the Missouri State Museum and the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site hosted Plein Air at the Landing, inviting artists to come and paint around the Landing. Around 20 people came to see the exhibit.

Sophie Grus, curator of exhibits for the museum, said they normally hold a soft opening for exhibits and thought it would be fun to invite people out to plein air paint for this one.

Around 2 p.m., three artists were scattered around the Landing, including Vicki Eultgen, who started painting around 1 p.m., when the event started.

Set up with an easel under a patio umbrella she brought from home, Eultgen stood in one of the parking lots at the Landing, painting one side of the Lohman Building, with a tree to one side and the railroad tracks in the background.

About 15 minutes in, she was painting some basic shapes she would later fill in with more detail.

"Sometimes you've just got to piddle with it for a while," Eultgen said, scraping green acrylic paint onto the canvas with a painting knife, a type of metal spatula.

Eultgen, who lives in Ashland, hadn't been planning to attend the event, but she said her husband encouraged her to. She decided to recycle a canvas so, on Saturday, she was painting over another old painting of a bouquet of flowers.

She said she's a hobbyist painter when she can get away from her interior design business, but she has done plein air painting events before.

"It's challenging, kind of stretches you out a little bit to try to do it," Eultgen said. "It's quite an experience."

Near the Rozier Gallery, St. Louis-based artist Shawn Cornell, who has paintings featured in the exhibit, had set up his easel, facing the Carnahan Memorial Garden. He chose to paint the side of a small building using his oil paints, but he wasn't very happy with it.

But for Cornell, it's about the experience, not the result.

"Sometimes you get a winner, sometimes you don't," he said. "I equate this to fishing. Sometimes you go out, you fish. For the most part, you're out there to enjoy the day, the camaraderie, the people that you're with. If you catch a fish, it's bonus. This - if you get a good painting, it's a bonus."

Since 2000, when he first picked up a paint brush, Cornell has always painted outside. For 20 years, he worked as a graphic designer, but now, he paints full time and co-owns The OA Gallery in Kirkwood.

He's part of the Missouri Plein Air Painters Association in St. Louis, which meets weekly to allow people to plein air paint, take photographs or draw outdoors.

"It's about the whole experience of things," Cornell said. "I've met a vast majority of my close friends through the process, and I met my wife through the process."

Cornell uses oil paints, a common choice for plein air because of the forgiving, water-resistant nature of the paints, making the painting conducive to basically any weather situation.

For his exhibit pieces, Cornell included what he calls each painting's "birth certificate" - a card with the date, location, weather conditions and story behind each painting. However, so his paintings wouldn't stand out, the cards aren't displayed.

"It adds the story," he said of the cards. "You can always do the illusion of dimension, but to have that true depth, it has to have that story."

To create the exhibit, the Missouri State Museum partnered with the Academy of Nature and Wildlife Art. The academy took submissions for the gallery, and the museum judged them and chose the artists who were displayed, Grus said.

Plein air painting goes back centuries but was popularized as a true art form by French Impressionists, according to Artists Network. Cornell said the popularity has increased more recently.

"The plein air movement, it's something that's been around for a long, long time, but in the 1980s, it started to take more traction, and about 15 years ago is when it really started to take off," Cornell said.

Eultgen said it's not the easiest thing to paint outside.

"People think we're crazy," Eultgen said. "It's an interesting concept, to plein air paint. It's not the easiest thing; it's not complicated either. It's kind of bizarre to try to explain what plein air painting is like."

Plein Air Missouri officially opens Tuesday in the Rozier Gallery, and it will be open Tuesday through Saturday until Dec. 1. Paintings in the exhibit are for sale on the Academy of Nature and Wildlife Arts website.